Ombudsman resolution on GMA plunder case should send chilling effect on heads of agencies…and even COA

by Juan Filipino

If we are to follow the logic of the Ombudsman in deciding to file charges of plunder against GMA on the PCSO, all heads of government agencies, including the President of the Republic, would be held liable as a co-conspiracy for plunder if the disbursement of funds in their respective offices would later be questioned.

In the plunder resolution issued by the Ombudsman, GMA was charged as a co-conspirator in the commission of plunder with the members of the Board of Directors of the PCSO because she approved the additional funding for the Confidential Intelligence Fund (CIF) of the PCSO in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

In the resolution, GMA’s inclusion in the purported conspiracy is based solely on her marginal notation “OK” appearing on the requests for additional CIF, nothing more. Apart from this, no other overt act is imputed to her. There was even no evidence at all that respondent GMA intervened in the approval of the CIF by PCSO and the subsequent disbursements and use thereof.

There is no evidence that she had a hand in the disbursement of the funds or had personal gain from the use thereof. In fact despite her approval, no fund disbursement would be made since her approval would still be approved by the PCSO Board through a resolution.

But for such marginal note, she was charged with a non-bailable offense.

Wittingly or unwittingly, the Ombudsman is setting a very disturbing precedent to all heads of government agencies tasked of approving fund release. In the event that such funds are questioned, the head of agency may be charged as a co-conspirator.

But the Ombudsman resolution finding GMA liable for her marginal note is contrary to Supreme Court decisions which had ruled that in order to sustain a conspiracy charge, evidence should be presented other than a mere signature or approval appearing on a document.

The High Court in a case (Arias vs. Sandiganbayan) said it would be setting a bad precedent if a head of office can be suddenly swept into a conspiracy charge simply because he did not personally examine every single detail, painstakingly trace every step from inception, and investigate the motives of every person involved in a transaction before affixing his signature as the final approving authority.

The Supreme Court considered such situation “asking for the impossible” since given the enormity of their work “(a)ll heads of offices have to rely to a reasonable extent ‘on their subordinates and on the good faith of those who prepare” the necessary documents. Especially if you are talking of the President of the Philippines!

If the High Court considered it as an impossibility, the more reason the plunder case against GMA should be thrown out because the former president was not even the final approving authority in the release, disbursement and use of the subject CIF of PCSO. She only approved the requests for CIF.

Furthermore, the Commission on Audit had already certified that the PCSO Chairman and General Manager was able to liquidate and submit supporting documents with respect to the CIFs in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

But the Ombudsman obviously consider such certification of the COA still a part of the conspiracy so that she even charged those people who made such certification – former COA Chairman Reynaldo Villar and career state auditor Nilda Plaras as co-conspirators in the plunder charge.

Indeed, only in the Philippines.

Here is a primer on the PCSP Plunder case